Showing posts from November, 2011

Steve Fellner reviews "Seven Studies for a Self Portrait"

Steve Fellner recommends my book to readers and critics. Hear him, you all!
One of the most ambitious and overlooked book of this year is Jee Leong Koh’s Seven Studies for a Self Portrait.  Even though presumably autobiographical, don’t expect any mushy confessions here.   As good as anything I’ve read this year, Koh’s poems are curiously distant... but in an enticing and exciting way.... [more]

Returned, Filled

We stayed with D & T near Woodstock from Wednesday to Saturday. For Thanksgiving, T cooked and fed a company of nine people. I met Jan Harrison, a painter and sculptor, and her architect husband Allan. Carol-Ann, a feminist performance artist, came with her new boyfriend, an Australian documentary filmmaker called George, who covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is now covering Occupy Wall Street. Burroughs also made documentaries, but of jazz musicians. GH was the other architect, and I was the representative poet. As for our hosts, D worked with videos and T had worked for MoMA. So much art present at the table, but reality, in the form of George's wars, dominated the talk.

The day after, we drove two hours to the town of North Adams to visit MASS MoCA. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is housed in former factory buildings with beautiful hand-cut stone, covered bridges and exposed brick walls. The buildings were put up in the late 1800's, by Arnold P…

An Encounter like a Flash

TLS November 18 2011

from Patrick McCaughey's review of the De Kooning retrospective at the MoMA:

The most telling example of de Kooning's progress through renunciation comes in the breakthrough years of critical acclaim 1948-53. He held his first one-man show in 1948 at the Charles Egan Gallery, a small and relatively obscure venue in New York, where he showed black-and-white paintings of the past two years. Most of them were just above easel scale, but they radiated an intensity of feeling, lightening white movements rent the unsteady black grounds. They rivalled the masterly, contemporaneous drip paintings of Jackson Pollock. Although they are abstract paintings with only the most fleeting reference to identifiable images--a roof, the letters spelling Orestes--they are burdened with an ominous foreboding. De Kooning prowled Manhattan by night and the black-and-white paintings hint at a city illuminated by erratic flashes of light, felt rather than observed. A famous remark …

From Passion to Compassion

In last night's Passio-Compassio, the Bach rearrangements by Music Director Vladimir Ivanoff sounded unconvincing to my ears. The string quartet, saxophones, bass clarinet, Arabic nay and qanun, Turkish ney, kanun and kemence, harpsichord, organ and frame drums, playing excerpts from Bach's Passions, sounded like a garage jam session. Bach's music was too strict, too self-contained, to admit foreign influences easily. When the music turned more improvisatory, more open-ended, as in the Syrian Orthodox chants and traditional Turkish songs, the different musical traditions melded into a sparkling stream. The experience taught me the usefulness of open forms in accommodating vastly different worlds: jazz improvisations, Arabic musical ornamentation, mystical refrains.

The Lebanese contralto Fadia el-Hage sang beautifully in the first half of the program. The Syrian chants were intricately embroidered by her warm yet brilliant voice. Particularly memorable was her rendition of…

Timothy Yu's "Race and the Avant-Garde"

In this work of criticism, Tim Yu brings together two groups of poets not usually considered together, the Language poets and the Asian American poets. The first is usually thought of along aesthetics lines whereas the second is usually described as a social category. By thinking of the avant-garde as life praxis, Yu illuminates the common origins of both Language and Asian American poetries in the New Left politics of the 1970s.

Faced with the splintering of the Left into what they saw as identity politics, the Language poets, mostly straight white men, had to confront the ethnicization of their own subject positions. Their Beat precursor Allen Ginsberg in writing his auto poesy provides a clear example of how not to be mix poetry and politics in the 1970s, as Chapter One discusses. Chapter Two examines Ron Silliman's attempt, both in his correspondence with other Language poets and in his book Ketjak, to acknowledge his ethnicized position and still maintain his centrality.


Carol Chan's Review of "Seven Studies for a Self Portrait"

I take my reviewers seriously. I take them seriously because I really like to know how my poetry impinges on an informed and acute sensibility. I take them seriously because I want to know the faults and limitations of my writing, and so learn how to write better. A negative review is more useful to me than a fulsome, ignorant one. What follows is my attempt to read a review carefully in order to understand its reservations and learn from it. It is also, of course, a piece of self-justification, but I hope it is not merely that.

Carol Chan does not like Seven Studies for a Self Portrait. For her the book "unfolds like a series of scientific experiments that don't quite take off." By "experiments" she means to indict me for being overly intellectual: "He frequently makes the wrong bet, falling in love with the idea of a poem, the idea of art." To support her contention, she quotes in full "Bulb" from the sequence "What We Call Vegetables.…

Contra Eliot

After hearing Stephen Dillane read "The Four Quartets" at the Clark Studio Theater last Friday, my longstanding love affair with the poem may be over. The still small voice of the poem that I had always heard in my head was suddenly and merely expressive in the mouth of the actor, expressive of a conservative religion, a contempt for other people and an authoritarian disposition that I knew were there, but had ignored as in the flush of love. I still admire the questing spirit in the poem--"Old men should be explorers"--and still respect the scrupulous scrutiny with which Eliot examines his life. Like Wagner's return to Christian symbolism in Parsifal, which caused Nietzsche to break with him, Eliot enters in "The Four Quartets" a dead end that no one else can follow, except his co-religionists.

The contrast with Beethoven's late String Quartet in A minor, which supposedly inspired Eliot, could not have been vaster. Played feelingly by the Miro Qu…



until a name/ and all its connotation are the same.
Elizabeth Bishop, “Conversation”

When he asks me for my name, I give him Jee.
No, your real name, he insists. Don’t patronize me because I am American.
I tell him my name is Jee Leong, but in America I go by Jee.
Jee Leong, he elongates, now that is a beautiful name.
He is right I didn’t think he could remember Jee Leong
but he is wrong to think I made Jee up for him.

Mascara Call for Asian American Poetry

Mascara Literary Reviewwill publish a special issue of Asian American poetry in July 2012. I am guest-editing it. The issue aims to present the vitality of poetry written by Asian American poets now. Essays and reviews are also welcomed, but please query me first with a writing proposal.
A bi-annual literary journal founded in 2007, Mascara is particularly interested in the work of contemporary Asian, Australian and Indigenous writers. The journal is supported by the Australian Council for the Arts and the National Library of Australia. It now receives 5000-7000 visits per month from 70 countries.
Submissions to Mascara Literary Review are by e-mail. Only previously unpublished work will be considered. Simultaneous submissions are acceptable as long as you notify the journal immediately of an acceptance elsewhere. Send 3-5 poems and a short bio in a single Microsoft Word doc as an attachment, labeled with your name. Write “Asian American poetry” in the subject title of your e-mail. The …

Poem: "Tearjerker"

My mum would insist on watching the latest release with Dad and me, some action flick like Iron Man or The Fast and the Furious. Clanks and clashes notwithstanding, she would fall slack, snoring.
The plot, said Dad, is too complicated for your mum.
But she could tell you everything you want to know about some 100-episode Cantonese tearjerker, who is sleeping with whom and not his wife, why he sells out his partner, how she takes her revenge,
what is the relationship between real life and TV.

Poem: "Tracing Death"

Tracing Death
We trace the pow’r of Death from tomb to tomb
Phillis Wheatley, “To a Lady on the Death of Three Relations”

The life that sailed from sight, the life to come, the life that scribbles softly in between— we trace the pow’r of Death from tomb to tomb.
A woman fell backwards, stunned in her womb. Extracted from her dry eyes by the men the life that sailed from sight, the life to come.
Elsewhere a bride is waiting for her groom, around her mouth sweat gathers to a sheen. We trace the pow’r of Death from tomb to tomb.
Studying Virgil in the children’s room, the slave hears from the Carthaginian queen the life that sailed from sight, the life to come.
The writing starts, and stops, and then resumes. In graceful elegies out of her pen, we trace the pow’r of Death from tomb to tomb.
Pray for us, Lady of our certain doom, that we may bring home safe by line nineteen the life that sailed from sight, the life to come. We trace the pow’r of Death from tomb to tomb.
"Eve's Fault" has been published in tongues of the ocean, a journal of Bahamian, Caribbean and related poetry, edited by Nicolette Bethel.

I wrote the poem during one of PFFA's 7/7s, and then workshopped it on the poetry board. Nico liked it so much that I had to give it to her.

Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop"

As a friend commented, Angela Bassett tore up the play at Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre last night. She was phenomenal, the heat and the heart of the action. She played the hotel maid who turned out to be an angel who had come to tell Martin Luther King Jr. (Samuel Jackson) that it was time for him to die. I was somewhat dismayed at first by the revelation that she was angelic because she was so full-blooded and interesting an earthly being, but the turn of events led to some well-judged comedy, in particular, a funny phone conversation that King had with Grandmother God, which ultimately underlined the pathos of a man coming to terms with his untimely end.

The 90-minute play, directed by Kenny Leon, humanized the monument that is the civil rights leader. It opened with King shouting to his friend to buy him Pall Mall. The smoke, which generated high sexual tension between a flirtatious King and Bassett's comely Camae, was also a sign of their shared humanity. King entered his motel r…